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May 1, 2008

Weight race ends; activity challenge planned

Notice something missing at Pitt? More than three tons’ worth of excess faculty and staff weight has disappeared thanks to the MyHealth Weight Race that concluded last week.

Across the University community, baggy clothing that’s not intended as a fashion statement and belt-tightening unrelated to state funding have become apparent as the weight race drew to a successful conclusion.

The most recent statistics available show that the approximately 1,300 weight race participants University-wide lost a total of 6,176.01 pounds after 11 weeks of the 12-week competition.

John Kozar, director of Benefits, said, “Generally speaking, the weight race went very well. The fact we got about 1,300 participants was a pleasant surprise. There was a lot of interest and a lot of enthusiasm and engagement in the process.”

Participants expressed interest in repeating the weight race next year, which, he said, probably will be done in January.

Pitt is looking for ways to maintain the momentum of the weight race’s success, Kozar said. To that end, this month the University will roll out an exercise campaign for the summer months that includes an activity challenge, although details have not been finalized. “We will have a team division, but individuals also can sign up,” Kozar said.

John Jakicic, professor in the School of Education’s Department of Health and Physical Activity, is among those working to develop the new initiative designed to build on the weight race momentum and to draw in new participants into a Pitt-centric activity campaign.

“Once you start getting the weight off, activity becomes more important to keeping the weight off,” Jakicic said. “We’re into the good months” when being active outdoors comes more easily, he said.

In the upcoming challenge, participants will receive points for reaching mileposts beyond their current baseline activity levels, Jakicic said, noting that those who already are active won’t have an advantage over those who are just starting to increase their activity levels. All sorts of activity will earn points, but walking will be featured, since it’s something most people are likely to do, he said.

Sample routes near Pitt’s five campuses are being developed to help walkers identify what constitutes a one-mile walk, or to map out a walk that can be completed during a lunch hour, Jakicic said.

To add a blue and gold twist, Kozar said the University is planning a campus-to-campus walking challenge, where those who walk the equivalent of the distance between Pitt campuses will earn points.

Jakicic said the activity challenge program will include plenty of feedback for participants, who will be able to monitor their progress online, both in terms of individual and team progress, as well as their standing compared to fellow activity challenge participants.

Those who sign up also will receive email nutrition tips and encouragement to increase their activity levels, Jakicic said.

Kozar and Jakicic hope the activity challenge will be a natural next step for those who completed the weight race.

UPMC Health Plan intends to keep in touch with the weight race participants, Kozar said. “The health plan will contact them to encourage a monthly self-reporting weigh-in [online] as incentive to keep their momentum in the weight race going. They will also continue to send out dieting and exercise tips and other information,” he said.

“We learned there may have been too much emphasis on the weight race as a competition, rather than on the benefits that individuals get for participating,” Kozar said.

“We also want people not to get discouraged for not reaching their goal. Just like quitting smoking, it isn’t always successful on the first attempt. We want to get people who have started to eat healthier and to exercise more to keep at it.”

Since blood tests and blood pressure readings weren’t taken at the outset of the weight race and because weight race organizers didn’t know how much each participant needed to lose to achieve a healthy weight, it’s difficult to quantify what the individual benefits might be, Jakicic said. But, if a person who needed to lose five or 10 pounds achieved that goal, he or she likely would see lower cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure levels. “When we’re affecting risk factors, in the long term we’ve affected the risk of chronic disease,” he said.

Jakicic said weight race participants also shouldn’t overlook the benefits of less quantifiable measures — such as finding it easier to get up from a chair, not getting out of breath as easily or finding clothing fitting better. There also is the psychological benefit of liking one’s reflection in the mirror better.

To maintain the improvements, continuing commitment is needed. “The key to long-term weight loss maintenance is to sustain activity, ramping up to getting 45-60 minutes of exercise on most days — five days a week,” he said.

Eating also must be kept in check, Jakicic said. “Just because the ‘diet’ is over and the weight race is done, you can’t go back to the old ways,” he said. “These are lifestyle changes, not ‘diet’ changes,” he said. “Keep doing what you did to get there.”

—Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow

And the losing winners are…

On the Pittsburgh campus, 11 teams tied for first place in the MyHealth Weight Race, achieving 100 percent of their weight loss goals. A drawing will be held to determine first through 11th place prizes. The winning teams are:

• Pittsburgh

Brody’s BAAM-Babes About to Acquire Muscle

Brody’s Fab Five

Bruce’s Big Booties

Comm Contenders

Conte’s Italian Army


MIK’s Designer Genes

POWER (Provost’s Office Women Energized and Ready)

Push It To the LimiT (PITT)

StepWatcher 1

The Good and Plenty’s

• Bradford

PB and J’s (100% of goal)

• Greensburg

The Melt-Aways (81.33% of goal)


A Ton of Fun (100% of goal)

Lawn Mowers (100% of goal)

• Titusville

Twiggy and the Phat Four (100% of goal)

UPT Healthy Weighs (100% of goal)

• Mechanicsburg

Foxes and the Hound (94.45% of goal)

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